Talk by Randy O'Reilly, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado. Given at UC Berkeley on November 13, 2009. Sponsored by the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences (ICBS) at UC Berkeley.
One of the great unsolved questions in our field is how the human brain, and simulations thereof, can achieve the kind of common-sense understanding that is widely believed to be essential for robust intelligence. Many have argued that embodiment is important for developing common-sense understanding, but exactly how this occurs at a mechanistic level remains unclear. In the process of building an embodied cognitive agent that learns from experience in a virtual environment, my colleagues and I have developed several insights into this process. First, embodiment provides access to a rich, continuous source of training signals that, in conjunction with the proper neural structures, naturally support the learning of complex sensory-motor abilities. Second, there is an intriguing developmental cascade of learning, where initial learning to fixate (foveate) a target enables subsequent learning to reach for that target, and also to recognize it within a cluttered visual environment. Finally, there are important functional differences in the learning mechanisms required for different brain areas and associated domains, which converge well with bottom-up biological data, including that on spike- timing dependent plasticity (STDP).